On Track Review: Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2013

Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘on track correspondent’: James Parker

Rosberg Slips Under The Radar
Bahrain Quali 4Under the searing heat of the Bahrain sun, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg has claimed a surprise pole position seemingly under the noses of RedBull, Lotus and Ferrari, and with it set up a very interesting race come Sunday in which thermal rear tyre degradation is set to dominate proceedings. Rosberg’s lap of 1.32.3 was a fantastic achievement given the clear grim faces on the Mercedes pitwall after FP1,2 and 3.

Neither Vettel or Alonso in 2nd and 3rd were able match what was perhaps the “perfect lap” – a cat amongst the pigeons somewhat?

Qualifying 1
A track temperature of 42c greeted drivers for the Qualifying session, which was somewhat lower than the early morning FP3 session. The big talk from the morning was surrounding Hamilton’s rear tyre delamination, which caused both a gearbox change and a broken wishbone which meant he had to take a 5 place grid drop post Qualifying.

The session was a slow starter, with four minutes passing before both Sauber’s decided to take to the track first, both Hulk and Guttierez looked to be struggling with the stability of the C32. Raikkonen who was tipped as a pole favourite, was having a scruffy day and made an uncharacteristic mistake going into T1 on his first run.

Signs that McLaren were desperately craving that upgrade package in Barcelona were enforced when both Button and Perez went straight on to the faster medium compound tyre, with limited success. RedBull were looking to save the harder compound tyre for the race and followed McLaren’s lead for both Webber’s and Vettel’s runs.

FA Q3 BahrainFerrari enforced their strong practice pace, with Alonso dominating Q1 with a lap of 1.32.8, which 2nd place Vettel could only get 4 tenths close to. Next up in 3th and 4th were Rosberg and a rejuvenated Grosjean, who appeared to be regaining some confidence back in the car.

Webber was struggling down in 9th; some 1.1 seconds off Alonso.  The big news came futher down tough as both Williams cars set identical laptimes of 1.34.425. However due to Bottas setting it first, it enabled him to go through ahead of Maldonado, who joined Gutierrez and the two Caterham’s and Marussia’s for company.

Qualifying 2
Q2 started in quite dramatic fashion, as the eliminated Marussia of Jules Bianchi was doused by fire extinguishers due to some unburnt fuel in the coanda exhaust catching fire. Both Red Bulls continued to run the medium tyre, this time scrubbed sets from Q1 and were quick to set the early running with Vettel topping Webber with a 1.33.4.

But the big surprise was the pace being displayed by Force India. Having looked strong all weekend Di Resta set the fastest time before Alonso once again restored order at the head of the field with a 1.33.2. Raikkonen continued to struggle on his first run in Q2 and could only manage 9th.

The Mercedes duo waited for 5 minutes to emerge for 1 planned run as did Grosjean. While the Frenchman went 7th, Rosberg was starting to look ominous and his intent was clear when he posted a 1.32.8 to go top, once again 4 tenths clear of anyone. Meanwhile Hamilton could only manage 4th.

While the top four remained confident and stayed in their garages, the remaining 12 cars from Vettel downwards went on a second run. Sutil was the first driver to cross the finish line as the chequered flag started to wave, hauling himself up from the drop zone to 6th, while the Sauber of Hulkenberg could only manage 11th.

JB Q3 BahrainButton who looked to be dragging every last ounce of potential from his McLaren went 9th. At this point Raikkonen was in trouble, being pushed down to 13th in the mayhem, but a consistent final run saw him claim a top 4 – danger averted.

This did his team-mate Grosjean no favours however, the Frenchman did not emerge for a second run (saving rubber for Q3) and Raikkonen’s time pushed him down to 11th and out of qualifying – to say he looked dejected was a understatement. Vettel on his second run topped the time sheets, displacing the strong Rosberg, who was followed by Webber. Joining Grosjean was the underwhelming Perez, a frustrated Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Bottas and rounding off the top 16 was Vergne, some 3 tenths off his team-mate.

Qualifying 3
Q3 had a slow start, with some drivers waiting mid session to do only 1 run, whilst others opted to have two stabs at pole. Both Mercedes drivers, Alonso and Di Resta went out first – all on fresh medium compound tyres. Rosberg set the early running however, eclipsing both Alonso and Hamilton in 2nd and 3rd on his way to setting a session fastest 1.32.5. Di Resta meanwhile managed to get his Force India up to 4th.

At the 5 minute mark, success! All ten cars participating in Q3 decided to bolt on a set of fresh tyres which meant we had 10 drivers all out vying for pole. The joker in the pack however was the Ferrari of Felipe Massa who had chosen to go for the hard tyre.

With the difference between both compounds down to 4-5 tenths this weekend, the Brazilian seemingly had one eye on a strong opening stint on Sunday.

Kimi Raikkonen during practice for the Bahrain Grand PrixRaikkonen, who was tipped as a pole favourite along with both RedBull’s and Ferrari’s, topped off a frustrating Saturday afternoon by only capturing 9th place.

But it was Rosberg who was seriously stealing the limelight. He produced a near perfect 1.32.330 to drop his pole time by 2 tenths – a sensational effort all round. Both Vettel in 2nd and Alonso in 3rd could simply not get close to the German, with Alonso abandoning his final lap due to a couple of mistakes.

Hamilton managed 4th, ahead of an “out of sorts” Webber in 5th. The latter looked like he was not firing on all cylinders this weekend.

A solid 6th for Massa on the harder tyre means he is in a fantastic position to utilise the fast starting Ferrari to catapult him further up the grid on what is supposedly the faster race tyre.

7th and 8th were the Force India pair of Sutil and Di Resta who had converted strong practice pace into a seriously consistent qualifying performance. Button opted not to set a time in 10th giving him free choice of tyres for tomorrow’s Grand Prix.

bahrain qualiWith penalties for Webber and Hamilton, it means the Aussie will start from 7th, just ahead of the Raikkonen who gains one place thanks to Hamilton who drops to 9th for Sunday’s Grand Prix due to his gearbox change. Gutierrez will also start from the back of the grid due to his penalty from the Chinese Grand Prix for colliding with Adrian Sutil at the hairpin.

The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:
“The smaller performance gap between the two compounds opens up the possibility of many different strategies, meaning that there is not one way that is obviously quicker than the other. It also doesn’t make a great deal of difference starting on the hard or the medium tyre.

Three stops could be the fastest plan though: start on the hard, change to hard on lap 10, hard again on lap 25, and then medium on lap 41.

A very close second possibility is to start on the medium, change to medium on lap 8, change to another set of mediums on lap 24 and finish with a set of hard tyres on lap 38.

A two-stop race isn’t out of the question either, with two stints on the hard and one on the soft, providing that the driver can keep rear tyre degradation under control during the 57-lap race. Again, keeping a flexible approach to strategy will pay dividends – but with overtaking reasonably feasible, finding a gap in the traffic is less essential.”

Tomorrows Grid

1 ROSBERG MERCEDES
2 VETTEL RED BULL
3 ALONSO FERRARI
4 MASSA FERRARI
5 DI RESTA FORCE INDIA
6 SUTIL FORCE INDIA
7 WEBBER RED BULL
8 RAIKKONEN LOTUS
9 HAMILTON MERCEDES
10 BUTTON MCLAREN
11 GROSJEAN LOTUS
12 PEREZ MCLAREN
13 RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO
14 HULKENBERG SAUBER
15 BOTTAS WILLIAMS
16 VERGNE TORO ROSSO
17 MALDONADO WILLIAMS
18 PIC CATERHAM
19 BIANCHI MARUSSIA
20 VAN DER GARDE CATERHAM
21 CHILTON MARUSSIA
22 GUTIERREZ SAUBER

Stat of the day has to go to Mercedes, who claim their first back to back poles, since 1955 with Moss and Fangio at the wheel. Also the first back to back pole positions from the Brackley team since 2009 under Brawn GP guise.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Grand Prix?

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15 responses to “On Track Review: Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2013

  1. I suspect Massa’s role tomorrow will be to stay in fourth or maybe move to third at the start and then keep everyone else behind him for as long as he can. If he can do that it turns into a race between Alonso and Vettel as I don’t see Rosberg leading for long. I’ll let Mercedes have two poles in a row if the red cars win two in a row.

    • I’m with you on that Cav – don’t think the Mercs are going to do that well in the race.. Rosberg may end up 3rd but I have a suspicion we may see two red cars in the top three.. unless Massa has the opportunity to sacrifice his race for Alonso …

      • We’d better do! I’d got Felipe down for pole and cursed when I saw him peeling out of the pits on the hards… My race predictions are looking shakey as well, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen… Good chance of the win, 2 and 3 maybe not!

        Decided to roll the dice a bit this time, no point going for ‘safe’ results, they only rack up small points.

        • I’ve been rolling the dice all year. Had Massa for the win in China. Last year played the percentages and was top 20 in the world at various stages. Mmm. Anyway my points are so crap to date – like a losing gambler i’m playing catch up and I’ll have to keep rolling the dice and waiting for double six.

  2. I dunno – if Massa gets some clear air – IF he can stay out longer on stint 1 – he’ll drive the wheels of the car to stay out of the dreaded ‘zone’.

    If we hear he is short of fuel and needs to slow down – then truly the game is up for Stefano’s inference that early season the drivers can race.

    I’m loving Ferrari at present – please don’t remind me of their ‘darkl side’. Why not a Massa win and a Ferrari 1-2, or should I say 2-1?

    • Agreed.
      I think it’s pretty smart of someone to decide to run the two Ferraris on different strategies – it means they can both run an optimal race when it comes to timing pitstops (although as Mercedes proved last week, it’s now possible to bring both drivers in on the same lap without losing time), and they don’t have to fight for track position in the first stint.

      Perhaps a sign that they are almost expecting a 1-2 ?

      In any event, this has to be Massa’s first real chance of a win this season, even if Alonso remains favourite.

    • The key to Massa’s race will be that first stint which you have highlighted Judge. I think everyone expects both the red cars to be lightning off the grid tomorrow, so we could see Alonso and Massa in the top 3 going into T4 once everybody has sorted themselves out.

      Felipe so far this season has not recovered from bad pitstops or strategy errors in the race, he appears to struggle once back in the pack and fade away rather than fight his way through. If he is given some clean air tomorrow running later on the harder compound tyre, could we see a very different performance?

      What can Raikkonen do from 8th? Lotus has looked strong on race pace – but once again a potentially race winning pace has been masked by yet another underwhelming Quali….

  3. Gee. Were are all the Mercedes “fans”? One of your drivers got pole.Or is Mercedes really a one driver team?

    • Depressed by Rosberg’s downbeat expectations for the race, I guess.

      Interesting that they can be so quick on a single lap here as well, though.

    • It is possibly one of the most underwhelming poles I’ve seen a driver achieve. Rosberg looked far from convinced with his Sunday pace and it looks like he has already conceded as you say Nigel.

      Could it be on rear limited circuits the FRICS suspension still likes to eat it’s rear tyres to a much greater degree of other teams? Lotus even seemed to struggle who are running a similar system…

      • Only Merc knows whether it is because of FRIC or not.

        All we as fans know is that Mercedes has a history of being hard on their rear tires, and that they use to have overheating issues with the car itself. The state of either of these today is equally unknown as the amount of blame you could place on FRIC.

      • I wouldn’t call it underwhelming. It was a truly stunning lap, with Rosberg fastest in all three sectors. He sounded pretty happy with it at the time, too.
        The race, of course, is another matter, as you say.

        Don’t know whether FRICS is eating the suspension or not – and I suspect few outside the team do, either.

  4. There goes my castrol prediction for Alonso on pole, he better bloody win it now! I have Filipe in 3rd, and Raikonnen 2nd, so he better get his skates on tommorow! Two stop Kimi? Mercedes gave me a Fright today, but I reckon they’ll drift backwards, cracking one lap pace from the boys it seems, I just don’t think they can hold the tyres, even Nico who sees to have a better handle on them that Lewis.

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